Eagle-eyed readers may notice that a detail from this installation is pictured on my website. Labyrinths have played quite a large part in my life since my partner developed a deep interest in all things labyrinthine some years ago. A quick glance round our living room reveals several labyrinth artefacts. On the mantelpiece alone I can see a small lace labyrinth, a photograph of a labyrinth made from sand on a beach and an invitation to a labyrinth gathering in Texas. Casting my eye around further, I spot the cover of the yellow paperback edition of Alain Robbe-Grillet’s Dans le labyrinth, an A1-size conference poster about labyrinth initiatives hiding unsuccessfully behind a chair, and a wooden chest in the window bay that contains plastic and wood finger labyrinths, a small fabric labyrinth and other bits of labyrinth kit.
Much of the last few days have been spent checking the index to my partner’s forthcoming book about … (yes, of course it is about labyrinths!) and so much in need of fresh air and exercise I set out for a long walk, but the labyrinth doesn’t let me go…
Tucked away in the Regent Quarter between Caledonian Road, York Way and Pentonville Road; Phillip O’Reilly’s ceramic installation can be found on the wall of Varnishers Yard. The glazed tiles that make up the seven metre by seven metre mural were hand made in the artist’s Peckham studio and use images of local industry, films, novels and plants. So if you peer closely you might just make out trains, barges and local parks. The labyrinth is one of two Wall-Works commissioned from O’Reilly by P&O Estates.
The labyrinth on Fen Court, just off Fenchurch Avenue in the City, aims to provide a space for quiet contemplation in the midst of the hustle and bustle of City life. Fen Court is the site of the old graveyard of St Gabriel Fenchurch, destroyed by the Great Fire in 1666 and never rebuilt.
Unlike many of the City’s squares and gardens, Fen Court is often far from tranquil. It is a busy thoroughfare with several doors opening onto it and smokers from nearby offices making good use of a strategically placed ash tray. Only at the weekend is it possible to get clear sight of the 5-circuit paved path and for a pigeon to enjoy the space undisturbed by human feet.
The labyrinth in front of the entrance to The Warren Playground on Whitfield Street in Fitzrovia is also paved and not especially conspicuous. Indeed I had stood on it more than once without realising that the pattern of the pavers at my feet was a labyrinth.
As with Fen Court it is not ideally suited to the contemplative walker as it provides the link between road and playground, but it is a good size for children to race around its square seven-circuit path based on a medieval pattern. Presumably the existence of a labyrinth and the name of the playground both play homage to nearby Warren Street.
The tiling on the Victoria Line platforms of Warren Street station depicts a warren. Not the single twisting, turning, though essentially unimpeded path of the labyrinth, but the tricks and dead ends of a maze – designed to confound. I’ve always enjoyed the bold pattern and bright colours of these tiles, but the link is erroneous as Warren Street takes it’s name from Anne Warren, wife of Charles Fitzroy, first Baron Southampton who laid out Warren Street’s houses in 1799.
Though of course there is a labyrinth on this as on all tube stations – part of Labyrinth, Mark Wallinger’s artwork celebrating the 150th anniversary of the Tube with 270 individual vitreous enamel artworks echoing the Tube’s roundel logo.
Not all labyrinths are permanent, nor can all be seen during the day. One of London most impressive labyrinths of the last few weeks has been landscape artist, Jim Buchanan’s stunning Labyrinth of Light cast onto the ground in front of St Giles Cripplegate and overlooked by the Barbican Centre across the water.
Installing the light labyrinth
The pattern is projected from the roof of St Giles Cripplegate each evening between dusk and about 10pm. But if you want to see it you need to hurry, as the installation is only for Lent and will finish on Wednesday 23rd March.